Mads Davidsen bringing a new ‘sustainable’ mindset to Arabian Gulf League football

Mads Davidsen bringing a new ‘sustainable’ mindset to Arabian Gulf League football
With the Danish Sporting Director, Al-Jazira are hoping to buck the trend of quick fixes and short-term planning that plague other clubs in the UAE and region. (File/Al Jazira FC)
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Updated 19 March 2021

Mads Davidsen bringing a new ‘sustainable’ mindset to Arabian Gulf League football

Mads Davidsen bringing a new ‘sustainable’ mindset to Arabian Gulf League football
  • With the Danish Sporting Director, Al-Jazira are hoping to buck the trend of quick fixes and short-term planning that plague other clubs in the UAE and region

LONDON: Stability and long-term planning aren’t usually associated with football in the Gulf.

Since the start of the 2019/20 Arabian Gulf League season there have been 22 coaching changes among the 14 clubs. In the desperate desire for success, long-term planning is a fantasy for most, with short-term success and job security the modus operandi for most clubs and officials.

But Abu Dhabi-based Al-Jazira are looking to buck that trend, and in newly-appointed sporting director Mads Davidsen, they have the man capable of building and cultivating the desired culture and environment within the club that will breed what every football club craves – sustained success.

“I was brought here for a project they call ‘Sustainable Sporting Success’,” the Dane told Arab News.

“That’s the presentation I had when I was interviewed. I bring a model that I have kind of designed myself through some analytical work, some evidential proof in the world of football, but also my own experiences working in China where we built up a club from the ground,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Despite the renewed focus on youth, it is one of Al-Jazira’s stalwarts that is pushing the team toward their third AGL title, with national team striker Ali Mabkhout in almost career-best form, hitting 14 goals in his last eight matches — including three hat tricks.

“I saw from my experience what works and what doesn’t work and how you can do it sustainably, so you’re not spending a lot or you’re not depending on one lucky season and the next you are a disaster,” Davidsen added.

“We’re trying to make a club that can be very stable, that can perform at the same level continuously and not overspend at the same time.”

In a league known for its pursuit of high-profile appointments, especially in managerial positions, Davidsen is certainly not the highest profile acquisition to arrive in the Emirates. But he comes with an established reputation within Asia for his work at Chinese giants Shanghai Port (formerly known as Shanghai SIPG) where he worked alongside the likes of Sven-Göran Eriksson, and Brazilian internationals Oscar and Hulk.

The fact that Al-Jazira turned to him to guide them on this journey, he says, is a sign the club were ready to take this step forward.

“I think in some way the club was ready for this,” he explained.

“And to be honest I think that’s why they hired me. They could’ve hired a lot of other good sporting directors, they could’ve also hired someone with much more higher-level experience than me, they could probably go after people who were sporting directors in the Premier League or in La Liga which I have never been.”

“But I am convinced they hired me because I have proven something with this model,” said Davidsen.

While the Dane hasn’t yet been in the role 12 months, there are already signs of his influence in the squad this year – the youngest in the Arabian Gulf League. As Davidsen explains, that is no accident.

“What we did since the summer we have sold or terminated 14 players’ contracts, which of course has lowered the average age,” he explained. “We simply signed a lot of academy players and we started to sell or loan out players who were a little bit older and we couldn’t see fit into our style of play.”

Promoting young local players has become part of the big picture.

“I use the example of a player like Abdullah Ramadan, who has had a really good season and is now a regular with the UAE national team and has been two times the Player of the Month in the UAE league,” Davidsen said.

“He would not have played if we had kept two all of the very experienced players in his position. He would not have been given a chance. You have to believe in the youth.”

“When we played (this week) against Fujairah we finished the game with the two full backs who are 18 and 20 years old and we scored two goals when they were in the game, which for me is great example that the coach, and the whole club, believe in the project.”

Despite the renewed focus on youth, it is one of Al Jazira’s stalwarts that is pushing the team toward their third AGL title, with national team striker Ali Mabkhout in almost career-best form, hitting 14 goals in his last eight matches – including three hattricks.

“Ali is of course first of all a fantastic player, one of the best players without doubt in the region, and on the continent,” Davidsen said.

“I think with our new way of working we have also given Ali a new momentum, a different kind of motivation. He’s a leader and he’s important for the group because he sees a lot of young players now that need his help and need his support.

“Also if you look at his scoring rates, it’s higher this year than it has been in previous years,” Davidsen added.

“So his performance actually went up this year, which is a great example of a player who has stepped up when it was necessary, because he could see that we offloaded a lot of the experienced players, so he was one of the ones that was left that had to bind together the team.”

With a narrow two-point lead over surprise packets Baniyas with just five games remaining – all against teams currently outside the top five – this is Al-Jazira’s title to lose. But as sweet as success would be, for Davidsen, it is only the beginning.


Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return

Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return
Updated 30 November 2021

Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return

Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return
  • Grealish moved for a Premier League record £100 million in August
  • "Jack very much deserves a warm welcome and I have no doubt he'll get that," said Gerrard

LONDON: Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard said on Tuesday Jack Grealish has earned the right to a warm reception when he returns to Villa Park for the first time as a Manchester City player this week.
Grealish moved for a Premier League record £100 million ($133 million) in August after making over 200 appearances for his boyhood club since making his debut aged 18.
The England international has been sidelined in recent weeks, but returned to training on Monday and could feature against his former club.
“Jack very much deserves a warm welcome and I have no doubt he’ll get that,” said Gerrard, who has made a perfect start to his Premier League coaching career with two wins from two games.
“This is his club and it will be when his career is over, because he was here as a little boy and he has come through the academy.
“The club have benefited a lot from what Jack has given and we very much wish him well moving forward for the remainder of his career. Obviously not for 90 minutes tomorrow,” he added before Wednesday’s fixture.
Back-to-back wins over Brighton and Crystal Palace have propelled Villa seven points clear of the relegation zone.
However, Gerrard is well aware of the step up in class his side face when the champions come calling.
“The two wins have helped in terms of the feel-good factor around the place,” said the former Liverpool captain.
“But we’re aware that a real good side is coming into town and this will be a big acid test for us.”


Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022

Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022
Updated 30 November 2021

Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022

Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022
  • 4-time Major winner last took part in tournament at Emirates Golf Club in 2018

DUBAI: Four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy will return to Emirates Golf Club in January aiming to win his third Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic title.

The Northern Irishman will be looking to add to his impressive record in Dubai at what will be the second Rolex Series event of the 2022 DP World Tour season.

The 32-year-old will be back at the event for the first time since 2018 when he came close to adding to the titles he won in 2009 and 2015, finishing just one shot behind winner Li Haotong. McIlroy has an enviable record over the Majlis course with a further six top-10 finishes in 11 previous appearances.

And he has enjoyed many other memorable moments in Dubai throughout his illustrious career, winning the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in 2012 and 2015 and topping the season-long DP World Rankings three times – in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

McIlroy adds further star power to a strong field at the 2022 Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic, which will include world No. 2 and newly crowned DP World Rankings winner Collin Morikawa, fellow Major winner and 2017 Dubai Desert Classic winner Sergio Garcia, and defending champion Paul Casey.

It will also be the first year that the Dubai Desert Classic has been elevated to Rolex Series status, becoming part of the DP World Tour’s premium series of events, and also the first time it has been sponsored by logistics technology provider Slync.io.

The 2022 Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic will be the second of back-to-back Rolex Series events in the region, following the season opener in Abu Dhabi in January, and it will form part of the traditional Desert Swing.

McIlroy said: “I’m looking forward to getting back to Emirates Golf Club for the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic in 2022.

“I have so many wonderful memories from playing in Dubai over the years, and particularly over the Majlis course, where I’ve been able to win twice. I look forward to coming back to Dubai and aiming to get my hands on that incredible trophy again.”

Chris Kirchner, chairman and chief executive officer of Slync.io, said: “As a fan of golf, it’s important that we bring a field that other fans will enjoy. Rory is one of my favorite players and I’m thrilled to have him as part of the inaugural title partnership for Slync.io.”

Simon Corkill, Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic executive tournament director, said: “The addition of Rory McIlroy to an already strong field emphasizes the pedigree of the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic.

“As one of the most talented golfers in the world he brings plenty of energy and excitement to the tournament. We look forward to seeing Rory battle it out with Collin Morikawa, Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and others in a truly world-class field at this year’s event.”

The tournament’s organizers have also confirmed that entry to the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic will be free to all.

Corkill added: “With the UAE set to celebrate its Golden Jubilee, we are delighted to announce that entry will be free for all golf fans over the four days of the tournament.

“This decision was made in recognition of this special moment in the UAE’s history, while also giving something back to sports fans following the challenges that have been faced in 2020 and 2021.

“What better way to celebrate than through a truly global sporting event on our doorstep which everyone can enjoy?”

Celebrating its 33rd edition in 2022, the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic has been won by some of golf’s greatest names, including Major champions Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Jose Maria Olazabal, Mark O’Meara, Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson, McIlroy, Danny Willett, Garcia, and Bryson DeChambeau.

The winner’s circle over the past 32 years has also featured Ryder Cup stars Mark James, the inaugural champion in 1989, Eamonn Darcy, Colin Montgomerie, David Howell, Thomas Bjorn, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, and Stephen Gallacher.


Formula E and FIA introduce ‘Gen3’ car to push racing boundaries

Formula E and FIA introduce ‘Gen3’ car to push racing boundaries
Updated 30 November 2021

Formula E and FIA introduce ‘Gen3’ car to push racing boundaries

Formula E and FIA introduce ‘Gen3’ car to push racing boundaries
  • New car to debut in Season 9 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship
  • It will be the electric series’ fastest, lightest and most powerful racing car yet

VALENCIA: Formula E and the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile have shared a first look at the third-generation all-electric racing car that will race in Season 9 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.

The car was presented under top-security conditions to an exclusive group of Formula E manufacturers, teams, drivers and partners in Valencia, Spain, where pre-season testing is underway for Season 8 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, which begins in January.

“The new Gen3 Formula E single-seater is a car created at the intersection of high performance, efficiency and sustainability,” said Jean Todt, FIA president. “The work accomplished by the FIA’s teams together with Formula E, since the launch of the discipline eight seasons ago, tirelessly seek to drive innovation and further the development of sustainable mobility. I have no doubt that this new single-seater will elevate Formula E to the next level.”

While Formula E manufacturers are set to take delivery of Gen3 cars in spring 2022 following further intensive development testing on and off the track, the briefing in Valencia disclosed a series of design, performance, and sustainability innovations in the Gen3 car, among them being the world’s most efficient racing car with at least 40 percent of the energy used within a race being produced by regenerative braking.

Lighter and smaller than the Gen2, the new car will also to enable faster, more agile wheel-to-wheel racing.

“In designing the Gen3 car, we set out to demonstrate that high performance, efficiency and sustainability can co-exist without compromise,” said Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle, adding: “Together with the FIA, we have built the world’s most efficient and sustainable high performance race car.

“The Gen3 is our fastest, lightest, most powerful and efficient racing car yet.”

Reigle said: “It is a creature designed for its habitat: Racing on city streets in wheel-to-wheel combat. We look forward to witnessing it inspire and excite the next generation of motorsport fans in cities around the world from Season 9 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.”

The Gen3 is the first formula car aligned to “Life Cycle Thinking” with a clear path towards second life and end of life for all tyres, broken parts and battery cells.

This innovation means that the car will be net-zero on carbon emissions, maintaining the championship’s status as the first sport to be certified as net-zero carbon since inception.

All carbon fibre broken parts will be recycled by an innovative process from the aviation and aerospace industry into new fibres reusable for other applications.

A pioneering process will deliver 26 percent sustainable materials into the composition of tyres.

The Gen3 is powered by highly efficient electric motors that can convert over 90 percent of the electrical energy into mechanical energy, a jump up from 40 percent in Gen2 cars.


Emirati boxing duo mark the country’s 50th National Day ahead of high-profile bouts at Coca Cola Arena in Dubai

Emirati boxing duo mark the country’s 50th National Day ahead of high-profile bouts at Coca Cola Arena in Dubai
Updated 30 November 2021

Emirati boxing duo mark the country’s 50th National Day ahead of high-profile bouts at Coca Cola Arena in Dubai

Emirati boxing duo mark the country’s 50th National Day ahead of high-profile bouts at Coca Cola Arena in Dubai
  • Fahad Al-Bloushi and Sultan Al-Nuaimi spoke of their pride at the UAE’s achievements as they prepare for Probellum: Revolution on Dec. 11

Emirati boxers Fahad Al-Bloushi and Sultan Al-Nuaimi, who will be competing at Probellum: Revolution in Dubai on Saturday, Dec. 11, have spoken about the sense of pride they feel when representing their nation on the global stage.

To mark the country’s 50th National Day on Dec. 2, Al-Bloushi and Al-Nuaimi visited the UAE flags at Kite Beach, where they paid tribute to the country on its special anniversary and looked ahead to fighting in front of a home crowd at the Coca-Cola Arena.

Al-Bloushi, 25, represented the UAE at the 2018 Asian Games, before going on to make his professional debut a year later.

The Emirati believes this is a fantastic time for UAE boxing, and he is looking forward to showcasing his talents at next week’s big event, in which he faces Ghana’s Kamarudeen Boyefio.

“I’m really ecstatic to be involved in the show because for a while it’s been a dream of mine to fight at the Coca-Cola Arena,” said Al-Bloushi. “I can remember driving past the venue and thinking about how much I’d love to be involved in a match there so to know I’m doing it next week is surreal.

“My training camp has been going well, I’ve had some great sparring partners and my team has been brilliant in terms of helping me push forward. I have no doubt it’s going to be a great night,” he said. “Boxing in the UAE is becoming the next big thing. Dubai has everything in terms of facilities, so it’s amazing for us to be involved in the sport right now.”

For Al-Nuaimi, a two-time national champion at amateur level, the bout against India’s Sahil Rahman represents a major opportunity for him to shine on a big stage.

“I’m really excited about performing at the Coca-Cola Arena, one of the best venues in the Middle East,” he said. “In terms of boxing, this is the biggest event in the UAE’s history, and many of my friends and family have already bought tickets, so it’s going to be great.

“Carrying the UAE flag and being a part of this country is all I want, it really means a lot to me.”

Those patriotic sentiments are echoed by Al-Bloushi, who explained what the 50th National Day means, both on an individual and collective level.

“I feel really proud to be from the UAE, especially when you consider everything we, as a country, have achieved over the past 50 years in terms of inclusion and achieving the impossible,” he said. “To be able to represent this country is a wonderful feeling.

“Watching someone carry your flag as you walk to the ring makes you realise that you’re not just representing yourself, you’re representing the whole country, and it’s always very special.”


FIFA Club World Cup draw puts Al-Hilal on course for semi-final meeting with Chelsea

FIFA Club World Cup draw puts Al-Hilal on course for semi-final meeting with Chelsea
Updated 30 November 2021

FIFA Club World Cup draw puts Al-Hilal on course for semi-final meeting with Chelsea

FIFA Club World Cup draw puts Al-Hilal on course for semi-final meeting with Chelsea
  • Saudi, Asian champions will have to beat playoff winner Al-Jazira or Auckland for right to face European title holders

RIYADH: What better test for the most successful team in the history of Asian football than to take on the European champions and, probably the current best team in the world, in the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup?

Having claimed a record fourth AFC Champions League title after beating Pohang Steelers 2-0 last week in Riyadh, Al-Hilal are on course to meet Chelsea if they win their second-round match.

Apart from a clash with the English Premier League side in the final, this is the next best thing, and it is very much on the cards in early February after Monday’s draw.

The date is to be confirmed as is the game itself. Al-Hilal will have to overcome the winner of the Feb. 3 clash between New Zealand’s Auckland City and Al-Jazira of the UAE but the prospect of Chelsea lying in wait is an enticing one.

At the moment, the Blues are top of the Premier League and looking very ominous indeed. Thomas Tuchel has turned the London team into a machine and one that many outside Saudi Arabia would expect to dismiss Al-Hilal without much of a thought.

It was always thus. No Asian champion has yet defeated their European equivalent in the FIFA Club World Cup but surely, one day, that is going to happen. With Al-Hilal the best team in Asia at the moment and the tournament taking place in the UAE, there are reasons to be confident.

With attacking players at the level of Bafetimbi Gomis, Moussa Marega, Matheus Pereira, Salem Al-Dawsari, Salman Al-Faraj and others, there is the offensive capability to worry any team in the world. The question is, of course, whether the defense will be able to keep the $130 million Romelu Lukaku and the likes of Mason Mount, Hakim Ziyech, and Reece James at bay.

Before that, Al-Jazira will be expected to beat Auckland, especially on home soil.

The Abu Dhabi outfit have a fine record at the Club World Cup. In 2017, they reached the semi-final. That also started with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Auckland and then, Al-Hilal should beware, a victory over the Asian champions, Urawa Reds of Japan. In the semi-final, the Emirati side, incredibly, took the lead against the mighty Real Madrid. It took second half strikes from Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to win the game for the most successful club in European history.

The prospect of taking on the Saudi champions is a welcome one for the UAE champs.

Following the draw, Al-Jazira’s Dutch boss Marcel Keizer said: “Our first match against Auckland City will not be easy. We will face a team that depends on physical strength, and we hope to reach the next round.”

Then comes a much bigger occasion. “If we qualify, we will meet Al-Hilal, and it will be a difficult match, especially as it is the champion of Asia and a strong team, but we are ready to play a good match, and it will be an exciting and beautiful confrontation,” he added.

Al-Hilal at least have recent experience in this tournament, finishing in fourth place at the 2019 edition. Gomis scored the only goal of the game against Esperance de Tunis to dump the African champions out. There was a 3-1 loss in the semi-final to South American giants Flamengo, having managed a 1-0 lead at the break thanks to Al-Dawsari.

It was a solid showing but not something to be completely satisfied with. The issue for Asian teams in the Club World Cup is whether it is better to have the glamour tie against the European champions or try to go all the way.

After winning the Asian title, Al-Hilal coach Leonardo Jardim said: “We play every game to win it. We know there will be strong teams in the Club World Cup, and we’ll not be favorites, but our objective will be to win as many matches as possible.”

Just playing the likes of Chelsea should not be the ultimate aim. That has to be to lift the trophy. And that is what former Saudi international Faisal Abu Thaneen was talking about as he reacted to the draw.

He said: “One day, this goal of winning the Club World Cup will be achieved. Raising the ceiling of your ambition and setting lofty goals makes you work hard to make it a tangible reality.”

The ex-Hilal star is right. The Riyadh giants are good enough to be excited at the prospect of playing a competitive match against Chelsea but also good enough to aim past the semi-final to try and go all the way.

At present, Saudi football is flying high in Asia. The Green Falcons are the continent’s in-form team and Al-Hilal have just won a record fourth Asian title. Chelsea may be a tough challenge, but this Saudi powerhouse are no pushovers.